Nfld. & Labrador

One lost a husband, one lost a friend. 9 years after Cougar 491 crash, they finally meet

John Pelley was Lori Chynn's husband and Maxine Lear's roommate. The two have been talking through Facebook since he died.

'Life's good and Pelley is watching us. Definitely, definitely'

Lori Chynn hangs a banner celebrating the life of her husband, John Pelley, who died in the Cougar helicopter crash. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Nine years ago, many people in Newfoundland and Labrador lost partners, parents and friends when 17 people died in the Cougar 491 helicopter crash, in a moment that devastated the offshore oil industry and circles far beyond it. 

At a site Monday where many family and friends still gather to remember their loved ones, two people connected by tragedy finally found each other. 

Lori Chynn and Maxine Lear have both been grieving the loss of John Pelley in the accident.

Pelley, a medic on the SeaRose, was Chynn's husband. For two and a half years, he was also Lear's roommate on the SeaRose, the floating oil platform where Pelley had been heading when the oil pressure collapsed in the chopper's gearbox, about 55 km southeast of St. John's. 

After Pelley's death, the two women found each other on Facebook and have always kept in touch.

John Pelley was a nurse who worked as a medic aboard the SeaRose platform in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry. (Submitted by Lori Chynn)

On Monday morning, at the fence alongside the old Cougar helicopter hangar where the ill-fated Sikorsky S-92 had departed, the women met in person for the first time. 

"It's amazing. Awesome. I've been looking so forward to it for nine years," said Lear.

"Life's good and Pelley is watching us. Definitely, definitely."

One lost a husband, the other lost a friend, but together they can keep his memory alive. 1:54

'I just feel compelled to come back'

Chynn, who lives in Deer Lake, drives to St. John's every year on the anniversary of the accident to place a wreath on the fence.

Lori Chynn hangs a memorial wreath at the old Cougar helicopter hangar. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

"I just feel compelled to come back to where John left that day," she told the St. John's Morning Show

In the days right after the crash in 2009, the fence was a gathering point for many of those who lost people in the crash.

Like Chynn, many still gather there on the anniversary of the crash to place flowers, wreaths and notes.

'He was always good to me'

Pelley spent his working hours on the SeaRose as a medic, and his off-hours playing guitar and singing to people.

"He'd give you goose bumps," said Lear. "He could sing like I've never heard anybody sing before."

Maxine Lear was John Pelley's roommate aboard the SeaRose for two and a half years. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

"He was always good to me … When we got on the chopper together, I used to think, I'm sitting by Pelley because if anything happens, he'll save me."

Chynn remembers her husband as an outdoorsman, a musician and a storyteller.

"He always had a story, every time he went through the door," she said.

He was also a dedicated, devoted professional. 

"He loved the medical field," she said. "He loved helping people and problem-solving."

To this day, she said workers still tell her stories about him — things he diagnosed, how he'd send them back to shore for testing, how he cared for them.

'It took a village'

Since the crash, Chynn has became a passionate advocate for safety of offshore workers, particularly helicopter safety.

She's also learned how to overcome the tragic loss of her husband and to carry on with her life.

"It took a village," she said. 

"It's that voice inside my head that says, 'You gotta keep going.' And that's the type of person he was."

Lori Chynn lost her husband, John Pelley, in the 2009 Cougar helicopter crash. (Paula Gale/CBC)

With files from Fred Hutton